Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - Scott Drebit ""

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Underrated '78 - Scott Drebit

Scott Drebit writes about horror and other stuff (okay, just horror) over at dailydead.com and can be heard drooling on their weekly podcast, Corpse Club. Thanks as always to Brian for keeping the curtains open and the screen lit up.


Coma (Directed by Michael Crichton)
This was former doctor turned author turned screenwriter turned director Michael Crichton’s second feature, the first being the paranoid horror/sci-fi hybrid, Westworld (’73). Based on Robin Cook’s bestseller, Crichton takes on his former profession with as much distrust as he did technology in his first. Genevieve Bujold plays a doctor at a prominent hospital who starts to notice patients disappearing. Michael Douglas is her doubting boyfriend/fellow physician, and Richard Widmark plays the possibly insidious administrator. Crichton’s least idiosyncratic film, yet it packs a lot of suspense into an improbable story.
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The Manitou (Directed by William Girlder)
Speaking of improbable, William Girdler’s The Manitou tells that age old story of fake psychic boy (Tony Curtis) meets girl (Susan Strasberg), girl develops tumor on her back which just happens to be the reincarnation of an ancient and evil Native American spirit. Add in Burgess Meredith, Stella Stevens, an epic space battle between The Manitou and Strasberg naked on a hospital bed, stir vigorously, and you’ll see why Girdler was my favorite B director who died way too soon in an unfortunate helicopter accident. A category of one to be sure, but so was the man.
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Foul Play (Directed by Colin Higgins)
I watched the hell out of this on video when I was a kid; smitten at an early age with Goldie Hawn, this gave her the perfect role of a lonely librarian who gets caught up in international espionage through the (exotic to me) streets of San Francisco. Chevy Chase isn’t really given much funny business to attend to in his first major big screen role after leaving Saturday Night Live; which is fine because Dudley Moore (in his American debut) and Burgess Meredith (there he is again!) more than hold their own. Higgins would write and direct two more films before his untimely death in 1988, 9 to 5 (’80) and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (’82), but this one holds a special place in my goofy heart.
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The Swarm (Directed by Irwin Allen)
As a director, Irwin Allen was a helluva producer. He was the King of the Disaster Flicks, thrilling audiences with The Poseidon Adventure (’72) and The Towering Inferno (’74); first rate entertainments that brought big budget spectacle and stars to decidedly B material. After directing the action sequences in TI, he got the itch to fully embrace the auteur spirit with a Nature Run Amok epic, The Swarm. Killer bees (and bee cinema) were all the rage in the ‘70s, and never one to miss a trend, Allen aimed to make an epic that no one would ever forget. Look at this cast: Michael Caine. Katherine Ross. Henry Fonda. Bradford Dillman. Richard Widmark (again!). Fred MacMurray. Olivia de Havilland. Richard Chamberlain. Lee Grant. Cameron Mitchell. And so many more; so many in fact that they fight each other for screen time as much as the bees do. Speaking of the bees, no expense is spared as puffed wheat is blown at the screen as the cast flails around like they’re in a money wind tunnel trying to get their share. Which is to say this: The Swarm is a genuine delight for those who think as big as Irwin Allen does about disaster films. Come for the attacks, stay for the bee hallucinations and Caine yelling every line.
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Damien: Omen II (Directed by Don Taylor)
He’s back, and look who’s got him: our little Antichrist is sent to live with his rich uncle (William Holden) and aunt (Lee Grant – again!) after the unfortunate deaths of his mom (okay, technically step mom) and pops in the first film. We pick up with an adolescent Damien (Jonathan Scott-Taylor) attending a military academy; under the watchful eye of Sergeant Neff (Lance Henricksen), Damien starts to realize his true power, and anyone who stands in the way of his ascension is dealt with in gruesome and creative ways, as per the mission statement of the filmmakers. Damien: Omen II works because it’s an actual continuation of the story, not a retread of the first, and Scott-Taylor brings genuine anguish to Damien’s growing pains. Horns do not sprout without regret.
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The End (Directed by Burt Reynolds)
I grew up in a time when the late Burt Reynolds was the biggest box office star in the world. Coming off the massive success of Smokey and the Bandit (’77), he could do pretty much anything he wanted, so he decided to dust off a Jerry Belson (Smile) script originally meant for Woody Allen and direct for the second time (after Gator in ’76). The result was The End, a dark comedy about a man who finds out he has a terminal disease and decides to end his life. Considering what the material is about, The End is ultimately a life affirming film, filled with stellar work from Dom DeLuise, Sally Field, Robby Benson, Norman Fell and several others. Mixing melancholy with laughter is near impossible, but Reynolds finds the balance in both roles as star and director. There is humility in his performance necessary for this to work; the warmth was always there. Right up until his real departure, he always faced the gallows with a twinkle in his eye that never dimmed. And as long as his films are shown, never will.
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